January 17, 2011
The first night, after hours of biking and running on arid terrain, my team surrendered to sleep on the floor of an abandoned farm shack at a remote sheep ranch. A wristwatch alarm pierced the dark air before dawn, a shrill beep that got us up and moving again toward a checkpoint still miles south.
We ate “breakfast” on the move, energy bars and cashews washed down with electrolyte drink — the first sustenance on a typical 6,000-calorie day. We ran in a line as the sun rose, following a map, the expanse of Tierra del Fuego falling forever ahead.
You go on like this for days. Your mind shifts, your focus narrows. In an adventure race, things get basic and primal. It’s you and the land and the task at hand. Eat. Drink. Bike. Trek. Paddle. Navigate. And repeat.
Your mind goes fuzzy. Your body misfires. On the third day, I fell off my bike. Sprawled in the dirt, I dozed for a minute on the edge of a mountain road — a catnap to conjure enough energy to go on.
I lost toenails. I cut open the back of my hand. My feet went numb after hours of trekking in a bog. One racer, Tuomas Sovijarvi of Finland, fell in a rock field and was suspected to have fractured his shin. But he didn’t initially quit. “Every step is so hard,” Sovijarvi said, wincing as we passed him in the woods.
Suffering goes with the game. But my team tried to stay in high spirits. We shared food and traded jokes. We passed around ibuprofen in times of need. We divvied gear to spread the load.
After five days, Sovijarvi was forced to end his race. Our team kept on, pushing kayaks into the cold water near the end of the course. Our paddles dipped and pulled, muscles straining against wind and waves.
A final leg through deep woods. Just 10 miles to go. Bushwhacking again, stumbling over blown-down trees, skirting beaver ponds. Up a mountain and into the snow. A high pass, then back into the woods. Miles and miles and a whole night to go.
Then, the finish line — lights and video cameras, camera flashes, a small crowd gathered in the night. Our final time: Six days, three hours, and 31 minutes. Cheers. Champagne showered for a top-five finish. Elation. An end, finally, to the test.
—Stephen Regenold is heading back to Patagonia next month. He will captain Team GearJunkie.com in the 2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race. Follow the action live on GearJunkie’s exclusive Wenger Patagonian Race Channel.
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